And…we’re back to our regular programming. 2011 was a massive year for me. I made WordPress.com’s “Freshly Pressed” list (with this post). I migrated my website from WordPress.com to WordPress.org (and this is how I did it). I graduated from my masters degree in writing (and this is what I thought of it). I moved read more...
I understand I have it backwards. I watched The Hunger Games, which I thoroughly enjoyed, then decided to check out its Japanese predecessor, which many say Suzanne Collins’ novel takes from quite liberally. I must admit, for the longest time I thought Battle Royale, the movie, was based on the manga (of which I had read more...
It had to be done. My list of 10 favourite films of 2011. Actually, I cheated. It’s really 11 films because I didn’t feel it was right to leave one of them out, so I made them both equal 10th. In the end, after going through all 110 films I watched from that year, I read more...
As small pockets of civilization around the world celebrated their survival of the Dec. 21 Mayan apocalypse, the vast majority of normal people have angrily demanded to know how things could have possibly gone so wrong. The world as we knew it was supposed to end at precisely 10:11pm (Australia Eastern Standard Time) on Friday, read more...
With a day to spare before the opening of the 18th National Congress, my second day in Beijing was supposed to be a relaxing one, scoping out the various venues I would soon be visiting on a daily basis. How naive I was.
When I woke up in the morning my initial impression last night that the cheap (US$46 a night) hotel was pretty decent took a bit of a hit. I must have been too tired to have noticed the broken cobwebs on the ceiling and it was way too dark, even with all the lights on, to see the stained walls and the chipped furniture. And when I wiped a bit of spilled water off the floorboards with a tissue, the tissue was all black. Yikes.
I began the day walking from my hotel to the hotel I was supposed to stay at (but got cancelled) to attend a small team meeting with the other reporters from my newspaper group. It was only 5 minutes by taxi but the walk was a long one. I didn’t mind it though because I got to go down Wangfujing, the famous pedestrian shopping street in Beijing. They say China has changed a lot and it sure has. Wangfujing has pretty much everything you could get at any other department store in the world. There was a Nike store, a Zara, branded luxury goods, and of course, an Apple store. The Chinese make most of their products anyway.
Yes, there is a Zara in Beijing
But first I needed to get a local sim card, which anyone can just pick up off the street from one of those dodgy looking grocery stores. In fact, I got mine from a little “adult shop”. It was only after I picked up my sim for 80 yuan that I noticed all the dildos next to it!
Anyway, the meeting was boring and pointless, as expected. We had a quick lunch at a nearby local restaurant which probably cooked everything with recycled gutter oil (it sure tasted like it) and I went off with one of my colleagues to Tiananmen Square, where a supposedly “more convenient” hotel was located. As it turned out, while it was very close to the Square and the Great Hall of the People, the hotel was a little on the expensive side for my cheap company’s budget, plus I would have had to travel quite a distance to get to the media center (where many of the press conferences are held). Oh, and I forgot to mention that they didn’t even have any spare rooms anyway.
So that was a complete waste of time. But after saying bye to the colleague I went through the big red gate (the one with Mao’s headshot on it) to visit the Forbidden City, and that was pretty cool. Interestingly there were lots of basketball courts inside. I don’t think people from the Qing dynasty played hoops, but perhaps the People’s Liberation Army cadets there make good use of them.
Nothing like a bit of pick up ball in the Forbidden City
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get into the Palace Museum because it was near closing time. Apparently I could have gotten in for free with my press pass (I hope so, or else it would be embarrassing to try and then get rejected). Mental note to visit the place again when there’s time.
I then tried getting over to the Great Hall of the People but was blocked by the guards, who said I needed some special invitation and not just the press pass. Whatever. I decided to walk back to the hotel, which took about an hour. I had been out all day and didn’t even have half a story to write, so I sent back some photos instead.
Later that night, I went out to dinner with my cousin’s husband who works in Beijing as an executive. He has his own personal driver and everything, which is pretty cool (I was impressed), and he and a colleague took me to a famous Peking duck restaurant. I’ll post some pics of that memorable meal shortly.
I was completely buggered by the time I got back to the hotel and I had to get up before 7 the next morning for the opening ceremony — so I just crashed.
I had a feeling then that this was going to be a very long trip.
I really need to find more time to play video games these days. Despite purchasing the game on DAY ONE, I have only recently found time (well, at least at the time I typed this sentence a few weeks ago) to play enough of NBA 2K12 to be able to give my thoughts about it and found the time to write the darn review.
It’s easy to proclaim 2K12 as the greatest basketball simulation of all time. After all, 2K11 was the previous GOAT and there has been nothing to challenge it since, especially considering that the NBA Live (aka Elite) team is still on hiatus after the embarrassing debacle that was NBA Elite 2011, the game that never was.
That said, I’m not going to judge 2K12 as a an independent video game. It’s only fair that I compare the game to its predecessor, 2K11, because that’s the only yardstick people can compare to.
So does the 2K12 compare favourably to 2K11? On the whole, yes. The best improvements are the controls, the simplified playcalling, the widened legends roster, more legendary teams, and the presentation. But to be perfectly honest, it’s not a revolutionary advancement in the franchise.
Let’s break it down.
The graphics are supposed to be improved, but I really could not tell. In fact, some friends have told me that they felt the visuals actually took a step back this year.
There’s just something different about it, as though the level of detail has been pared back slightly. The players don’t look quite as shiny during the gameplay, though the close up cut scenes are as impressive as ever. Another improvement is the extent to which the computerised players resemble their real life counterparts (for instance, Kobe looks less like an alien). One of the biggest problems before — the bad hairdos of white guys (including coaches) — has been fixed somewhat. It’s not perfect but it’s a step in the right direction.
There has been an improvement, but white dudes' hairstyles still don't look quite right
This year, with the new NBA’s Greatest (discussed below), the creators of the game also ingeniously tried to emulate the TV broadcast quality of times gone by, so if you play an 80s game, the colours are less sharp, and if you play a 60s game, the game is fuzzier and in black and white. Even though it’s kind of gimmicky, it’s a nice added touch.
Ultimately, I think it’s possible that the visuals are more realistic but less detailed. It looks more like a live game you would see on TV rather than a video game with mind-blowing graphics. Does that make sense?
Not a lot of improvement here. New music, a new commentator (Steve Kerr, replacing Clark Kellogg and joining Kevin Harlan), but not a whole lot of freshness. Not to say the commentary isn’t good, but in terms of variety and the amount of excitement it can add to the game, I think it has essentially peaked for the series. The only real way to improve it is to make the commentary more varied, more dynamic and more excited when players make big plays.
Improved again from last year. Not dramatic changes in terms of the menus (just more streamlined) but I quite like the changes they made in stuff like player intros, the half time reports and the post game features like Player of the Game, etc. You can tell they put a lot of effort into making the game seem like a real TV broadcast.
Last year I thought the gameplay was already pretty awesome, and this year they upped it another notch.
It might take a little while to get used to the changes, but it’s worth trying the various tutorials and drills to get the hang of them before playing proper games. It makes a HUGE difference when you feel more in control of the players you are controlling. It not only makes you a better player, it makes the games far more exciting.
The best improvements are in the areas of post play (offense and defense) and off the ball movement. There is an entire tutorial teaching you how to fake out your opponent when playing without the ball. You can learn how to pound the ball inside and wreak havoc down low like Kevin McHale or Hakeem Olajuwon by using an encyclopaedia of post moves. It’s awesome. Your ability to call for screens, utilise the give-and-go, perform up-and-unders, hop steps, spin moves, in-and-outs, behind the back dribbles, crossovers, Euro steps, face-up moves — the whole shebang — makes the game super real and will keep players coming back as they improve their techniques with the control pad.
That’s the best thing — you can play on the lower levels with just the basics and it’ll be fine, but as you get to the more difficult settings, you really need to learn the entire repertoire of moves to have a chance against your opponents.
The computer AI is also improved, though it might be hard to tell for casual gamers unless you line the two up side by side. But it’s there. Fast breaks are better on both sides of the ball. Crazy passes are less likely to thread through untouched. If you run into teammates you’ll lose the ball. Playcalling has been simplified and you can simply call plays for particular players or just call the best play available. It’s the little things that have made the biggest differences in the game.
You still have the same stuff from last year, so I won’t go through them all. The new headline mode is the aforementioned NBA’s Greatest. Last year it was reliving Michael Jordan’s greatest moments — a good idea that got old real quick. This year, there are a lot more legends and you only need to complete one challenge game to unlock more stuff, and all you have to do is win the freaking game. You got guys like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Isiah Thomas, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Karl Malone, John Stockton, and so on. It’s fine, but it’s still a single playthrough kind of mode.
The modes you’ll spend most of your time on are still the Association Mode and My Player Mode.
Association Mode is largely unchanged, but it’s still the most packed mode in the game that will allow you to play for hours and hours through years of NBA seasons, playing games, organising rosters, scouting new rookies, making trades, signing players, scheduling practices, developing young players and so forth.
A little overboard for the 14th pick of a weak draft, but these little touches make 2K12 fun
My Player Mode is slightly improved. The biggest change is that instead of going in the D-League to start off, you get to play in a showcase game which will determine where you go in the NBA Draft. If you play well enough you get drafted, which is pretty cool (they show the whole process, including handshakes with Commissioner David Stern), and you’ll get a chance to fight for a starting position straight away. Jeremy Lin, anyone?
There are also add on downloadable features, such as the Legends Showcase. I’m too cheap to get it, but here’s a review and it seems decent if you are into living in the past and playing with legends all day long.
Not for me, but I hear that the online mode is not very stable, at least not on the PS3. Apparently, a lot of people have flooded back to 2K11′s online mode, which is a huge indictment of this year’s game.
The good thing about having the Internets is that you can update your roster to keep them up-to-date with what’s been happening in real NBA (eg, I hear Jeremy Lin recently got a stats upgrade). You can also download fan-made rosters and players, so you can get your hands on players who aren’t licensed for the game — the main ones being Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson. If you have a lot of time on your hands you can also create your own players and teams and share them with others.
Reckon there's going to be a lot of Linsanities online?
This was one of the things 2K played up in the lead up to the release — you can play 2K12 with the Playstation Move! Wow! And it’s so easy and intuitive anyone can do it on their first try!
Err…no, that idea just stinks. If you want to play real basketball, pick up a ball and go outside. I haven’t even bothered trying the Move mode of the game. It’s a waste of time.
Check this out and tell me it’s not lame.
So is 2K12 worth getting if you already have 2K11? Now? Yes. Originally, when the game was first released, the NBA was still in lockout mode, meaning you had only a couple of the pre-signed rookies in this year’s class. With the NBA now in full swing, you can download the official updated rosters or the fan-made ones.
For me, the greatest improvement was the controls and gameplay. If you have the patience to lean the moves, 2K12 becomes much more enjoyable than 2K11. All the other improvements, such as the presentation and the graphics (if you call it an improvement) were nice, but they’re not game changers. If you can’t let go of the past and feel the urge to keep using Larry Bird to shoot over Chuck Person while saying, “Merry F&*%ing Christmas”, then the NBA’s Greatest Mode would also be a great reason to buy the game.
At the end of the day, 2K12 is of course a better game than 2K11, but it didn’t blow me away like I thought it would. Nonetheless, credit must go to 2K for making the effort to improve last year’s game when they had zero competition. It will still be the most played game in my collection until 2K13.
Shortly after Round 1 of the 2009 NBA playoffs ended with the Atlanta Hawk’s game 7 thrashing of the Miami Heat (thereby ending the possibility of a dream matchup between Lebron James and Dwayne Wade), Round 2 began with game 1 between the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks.
So I better get my picks for the Conference Semi-Finals in before that game finishes!
Will the Hawks stand a chance against Lebron and the Cavs?
1 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) vs 4 Atlanta Hawks (47-35)
The Cavs finished the first round in style, blowing out a weary Detroit Pistons squad in 4 straight games. The Hawks, on the other hand, came out on top after a grueling, seesawing 7-game series against the Miami Heat. Seeing that the Cavs have home-court advantage and won the season series 3-1, it’ll be outrageous to bet against them in this series. Plus I don’t see anyone on the Hawk’s squad (or in the NBA, for that matter) that can stop Lebron the way he’s playing right now. The question really should be whether the Hawks can win a game or two against them. My guess is that they can, but just one. Cleveland in 5.
2 Boston Celtics (62-20) vs 3 Orlando Magic (59-23)
The Celtics just came off possibly the greatest first round series of all time by finally disposing of the resilient Chicago Bulls in 7 amazing games. The Magic toppled the Philadelphia 76ers in an uneven, inconsistent 6-game series.
This will be a tough one to call. Without Kevin Garnett, stopping Dwight Howard will be that much tougher than it already is, but on the other hand, the Celtics do have the championship experience. Further, they have the big-time players in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, plus Rajon Rondo demonstrated just how good he can be. Rafer Alston will no doubt have his hands full. In my opinion, this series will come down to whether Howard’s supporting cast can step up and hit the shots when called upon.
If I was calling this series at the beginning of the playoffs, I would have said the Magic in 6 against a KG-less Celtics. But after seeing how the Magic played against the 76ers in the first round, my gut instinct is to go with the defending champs. Boston in 7.
Artest will do his best to ruffle Kobe's feathers
1 Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs 5 Houston Rockets (53-29)
Yao Ming finally got out of the first round – but he’s going to find out just how hard it is to get past the second. After overcoming the inexperienced Portland Trailblazers in 6, the Houston Rockets will face last year’s Western Conference Champions, the LA Lakers, who defeated the Utah Jazz in 5.
The season series wasn’t even close, with LA sweeping it 4-0. However, with Andrew Bynum at less than 100%, Yao Ming will have opportunities to dominate. For the Rockets to have a chance, Yao really needs to be more than just a 20-10 guy this series. If he doesn’t assert himself and start having big games (and I mean 30+ points a night), it could be a short series.
On the other hand, no one can stop Kobe Bryant, but Ron Artest and Shane Battier are just about the best anyone could hope for. They also need to make Kobe work hard on the defensive end. If Artest can rough up Kobe a little bit then things could get interesting. The real question is whether the Rockets can stop the likes of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol or have the firepower to stay with the Lakers’ high octane offense.
In the end, I think Houston will give LA a tougher test than most Lakers fans are willing to imagine, but they won’t be able to beat them. Los Angeles in 6.
2 Denver Nuggets (54-28) vs 6 Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
Denver was so much more impressive than I thought they would be against the New Orleans Hornets, whom they eliminated in 5 games. Dallas also did well to knock off perennial contender San Antonio in 6 games, though the Spurs were clearly operating at less than full capacity.
Another difficult series to pick. Jason Kidd is lucky that they are facing the Nuggets instead of the Hornets, because he would have been burnt even worse by Chris Paul than he did by Tony Parker. Chauncey Billups is great, but as he’s not the speedy type, it’s a good matchup for Kidd. Dirk will no doubt have a big series, but I see the X-factor for the Mavs being newly crowned 6th Man of the Year Jason Terry. He’s the type of player that can catch fire and turn a game around in a hurry. For the Nuggets, JR Smith and Nene are their keys to victory. Smith is also a guy that can light it up real quick, and Nene can make a difference in the middle with his defensive presence.
The two teams appear to be pretty evenly matched on paper. However, I think home-court advantage will play a factor here, so I will say Denver in 7.
PS: How my Round 1 predictions stacked up
I am an admittedly bad predictor when it comes to sports, but I don’t think I did too bad in the first round (full analysis here). The only series I got wrong was Atlanta vs Miami, where I declared that the Heat would prevail in 6 games (I was probably blinded by my desire to see Lebron vs D-Wade).
In terms of guessing the number of games per series, I correctly guessed that the Rockets would beat the Trailblazers and the Magic would beat the 76ers, both in 6 games, but that was it. I gave too much credit to Detroit, New Orleans and San Antonio, but not enough to Chicago and Utah.
Here are my predictions for the first round of the 2009 NBA Playoff (set to kick off on Saturday18 April 2009). This is one of the most intriguing first rounds in years, where almost every lower seed at least has a chance of pulling off the upset (in my opinion anyway). Each series is first to 4 wins (max of 7 games).
1 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) vs 8 Detroit Pistons (39-43)
Prediction: Cavs in 5
With the likely MVP Lebron James leading Cleveland to the best record in the NBA, it’s hard to pick against them. Their confidence is sky high and they’ve played with a swagger (s0me say arrogance) all year. Detroit, on the other hand, has been in complete disarray since the Allen Iversion trade, looking nothing like the perrenial 50-win team they had been for the last 6 or 7 years. I was close to calling this series a sweep, but I think the Pistons have too much pride for that to happen, and perhaps might be able to catch the Cavs off-guard in one of the games, but no more than that.
2 Boston Celtics (62-20) vs 7 Chicago Bulls (41-41)
Prediction: Celtics in 6
This is a hard one to call. Boston hasn’t looked so vulnerable all season, with emotional leader Kevin Garnett possibly out for the entire playoffs. Conversely, the Bulls have streaked to the 7th seed and with exciting rookie Derrick Rose leading the way, they must be feeling good about their chances. However, it’s difficult to deny the 21 game gap between the two teams and the fact that the Celtics are the defending champs. There’s no doubt they’ll be playing their hearts out until KG gets back (if he does), and in any event, their record without KG has still been pretty impressive.
3 Orlando Magic (59-23) vs 6 Philadephia 76ers (41-41)
Prediction: Magic in 6
I was tempted to say Orlando in 4 or 5 because I think they are that much better than the 76ers, but their play to close out the season hasn’t been particularly inspiring. However, Philly hasn’t been playing particularly strong lately themselves, so the outcome is a bit up in the air. On top of that, Orlando has been nursing some injuries, so I don’t think it will be as easy as some think.
4 Atlanta Hawks (47-35) vs 5 Miami Heat (43-39)
Prediction: Heat in 6
Going with gut instinct on this one. The two teams have similar records though Atlanta has home court advantage – but Miami has Dwayne Wade. I’m expecting a spectacular series from him and I don’t think anyone on the Hawks can stop him.
1 LA Lakers (65-17) vs 8 Utah Jazz (48-34)
Prediction: Lakers in 4
I want to believe that Utah can pull out a game or two, but I think the Lakers are just too strong and too confident. Carlos Boozer hasn’t seemed right all season and the Jazz haven’t played well to end the season. The Lakers will be looking to come out and make a statement in the first round so they can intimidate the other teams they’ll meet later.
2 Denver Nuggets (54-28) vs 7 New Orleans (49-33)
Prediction: Nuggets in 7
There’s only 5 games separating the 2nd and 7th seeds, so I think home court advantage will play a big factor. I’m think Chris Paul will be sensational but Denver will prevail in the end.
3 San Antonio (54-28) vs 6 Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
Prediction: Mavericks in 6
I feel a little sorry for the Spurs, because they’ll have their hands full without Manu Ginobili and with Duncan only at half-strength. No doubt Tony Parker will absolutely burn Jason Kidd this series but I don’t think he win this series alone.
4 Portland Trailblazers (54-28) vs Houston Rockets (53-29)
Prediction: Rockets in 6
Even though these Rockets don’t have much playoff experience beyond the first round, they at least have more experience than the Blazers, and I think ultimately that will be a factor. If Yao has a big series I can’t see Houston losing. Portland doesn’t have anyone that can stop him, and they have rugged defenders such as Ron Artest and Shane Battier to throw at Brandon Roy.
Will Coach O'Brien be blamed for another year where the Pacers miss the playoffs?
A while back, after the Indiana Pacers defeated the Houston Rockets on January 23, their record was an unimpressive 16-27, good for second last in the Eastern Conference.
However, I noted that the team was about to embark on a “make or break” stretch of the season, where 13 out of their next 17 games were against sub-0.500 teams (at least at the time) and 10 of those games were at home. If the Pacers were going to have any chance of making the playoffs, this was the time for them to make a run for the top 8.
So how have they done? Well, it was, as the Pacers have been all season, mediocre. For the softest patch of the season schedule, the Pacers went 9-8, boosting their record to 25-35, 12th in the East and 3 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the final playoff spot.
I said back then that, given the Pacers’ record at the time, 10-7 would be considered a moderate success. Not unexpectedly, they fell just short.
However, if you look at the actual games during the stretch, you may be surprised by where the wins and losses came from. They managed to get 3 wins against Miami, Orlando and Cleveland, the teams they were supposed to lose to, and lost completely winnable games against New York (twice), Minnesota, Washington, Milwaukee (without Redd and Bogut) and Charlotte. They also went 8-2 at home and 1-6 on the road.
During this stretch, All-Star Weekend flew by, the trade deadline passed and went without any deals (ie Tinsley), Danny Granger hurt his foot (out 3 weeks), and Mike Dunleavy declared his season over with the same injury that’s sidelined him for most of the season.
With just 22 games left, it’s not looking good for the Pacers. According to Hollinger’s Playoff Odds, Indiana still has a 14.9% chance of making the playoffs, down from 23.4% before the start of the dream 17-game stretch. But to do so, they need to go something like 14-8, which would be miraculous if they managed to even come close. This would be the case even if they had Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy and no injuries to anyone else.
So, to summarise the “make of break” stretch of the season: They didn’t make much progress in the standings. Their two top scorers Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy are out with injuries, the latter indefinitely. They are about to enter a tough stretch where the next 10 games include teams such as Boston, Denver, Portland (x2), Utah, Atlanta and Dallas. To top things off, they still have Jamaal Tinsley. Another forgettable year for the Indiana Pacers. Time to look forward to next season. The only problem now is that they are winning some games, which won’t get them in the playoffs but will, once again, put them in a position to miss out on the top picks in next season’s draft. Oh, and they still have to get rid of Jamaal Tinsley.